OPINION - Will a new Ottolenghi really tip Richmond into wild chaos? The answer is more complicated than you think

 (Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd)
(Daniel Hambury/@stellapicsltd)

Reports emerged last week of a minor uproar in Richmond, London’s notorious hotbed of middle class shenanigans. In the south-west borough — “probably London’s most attractive borough, darling,” trills its official tourism website (I may have added the “darling”) — the council has just granted permission for a new Ottolenghi restaurant and deli to open on Hill Street, replacing a furniture showroom. And So To Bed, Richmond? Fat chance of that now.

The announcement came just as Rightmove reported that the suburb is Britain’s happiest place to live. Evidently, this survey was done before the news broke that some chef from Jerusalem was about to turn up and shove handfuls of pine nuts down everyone’s throat, because some quarters have been up in arms. One complainant wrote to the council with fears that Ottolenghi would “pump out into the evening dozens of people per night into an area that’s already febrile”.

“I’d like to suggest that you all have a duty of care to the town and to your council taxpayers to ensure that this kind of application gets reined in because it is becoming completely intolerable to live here,” they added. Others are worried about the smell, the parking. Another wrote that “noise will become an issue after closing where patrons will congregate in the streets”.

The Ottolenghi Effect isn’t fighting in the street, it’s about getting people to pronounce za’atar properly

Sure, maybe. I mean, I have my problems with Ottolenghi. I hold Yotam himself personally responsible for the pomegranate plague that still afflicts some restaurants today (what do those horrible little seeds everywhere do?). I think he over-inflated the cauliflower’s ego. But the Ottolenghi Effect isn’t fighting in the street, it’s an uptick in sales of tahini. It’s about getting people in Barbours to pronounce za’atar properly. And so, you’re thinking, all someone really needs to do is tell these whingers that Ottolenghi isn’t a strip club and that’ll be that.

Actually the truth of it is a little more complex, and more broadly illuminative. A cursory glance of the 15 complaints reveals something more serious. Like everywhere else in the country, that part of Richmond has its problems. Among the complaints, it’s mentioned that Hill Rise has been “designated by Met Police, since summer 2023, a trouble hot spot”. The Christmas before that, a nightclub across the road from the new Ottolenghi was temporarily closed after a nearby stabbing, for its “failure to prevent crime and disorder.” And, as another resident points out: “We are currently dealing with a high level of violence, noise pollution, significant litter and street smoking…” Crucially, it’s mentioned that there aren’t enough police patrolling to cover the area at night. Someone isn’t keeping an eye on things.

When the restaurant opens, not only will it offer Richmond a terrific place to eat (pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and all), but employment opportunities too. The trouble some locals seem to have isn’t with the restaurant itself, but that it might add to issues; the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The nightlife economy is a fragile thing and businesses need to work together to ensure each can flourish. But in Richmond, as in Soho or Islington or anywhere, there is a need for the council to step up to keep things in order. Because if residents are complaining that an Ottolenghi is going to be too much trouble, something must seriously be wrong. What if it had been a Spoons?

Eyes on the prize

Keep an eye out for the Michelin awards, which take place tonight at a ceremony in Manchester — a sign, perhaps, that the city’s paltry sum of just one starred restaurant is about to be upped. Perhaps. Few things are really known about the once famously-opaque Guide — although admittedly it killed its own mystic romance the day it joined social media and started posting dining highlights, like some third-rate influencer.

Regardless, the Guide, first invented to help shill the company’s tyres, remains the most trusted source for restaurant recommendations, certainly within Europe. It deserves to be, and often name-checks extraordinary places. But if you’re using it soon, beware it has its idiosyncrasies, and, though it claims to judge only the food, seems to favour a certain “type” of restaurant — somewhere usually quiet and calm and discreet. Refinement is the word; gutsy tends not to be.

Taken for fine dining and elegance, the guide rarely fails; for theatre, or fun, or just a good time, its aim is less true. But perhaps this year will be the one that everything changes. We’ll see; follow the results here.

David Ellis is the Evening Standard’s Going Out editor